On Thursday February 16th The School Reform Commission of Philadelphia (SRC) voted to suspend a portion of the Pennsylvania Public School Code that requires a three-month window between an official public hearing on proposed public school closures and a vote to make them official.
According to legislative functions pdf available on the School District of Philadelphia website “The SRC may, upon a majority vote, cause to suspend at any time the operation of a SRC policy, provided the suspension does not conflict with legal requirements.” Thus granting them power to change the school code when they deem it necessary.
Regardless of why they have the authority to change the school code, the suspension of school code grants the SRC the power to close schools without any opposition from the public. We are looking at a major abuse of power and a complete disconnect from the SRC and the community. The SRC’s change in policy effectively shuts the door in our faces and is a blatant issue of accountability and transparency.
School reform cannot exist when the community is disenfranchised from the process. Who checks and balances the SRC’s power to silence us from school closings? We don’t appoint them. The governor chooses three members and the mayor chooses two. None of our parents or students sit on the commission so I don’t see how the SRC could go through with a major shift in policy like this without allowing our voices to be heard.
Community members were showing up in opposition to school closings, it wasn’t as if they weren’t showing interest. The community made it a point to be at the 21 community meetings around the issue of school closure. As recently as March 4th, parents, students and other members of the Philadelphia community showed up on a Saturday to voice their opinions against school closings. The SRC’s abrupt change of school code hurts the community’s ability to be involved in the school reform process.
I know the SRC has a code of ethics which should have influenced its membership to make a more sound decision than to suspend such an important portion of school code. According to its code of ethics the SRC is supposed to include stakeholders in all communications, distribute relevant information about the district, as well as lead with respect and take full responsibility for SRC activity and behavior. However, actions speak louder than words and while members of the SRC may say it wasn’t a move to completely disregard the public’s persistence what else could it be viewed as?
In the meantime I hope for the well being of our students at the schools on the closing list. Where will they go? How will they feel when their schools are no longer available to them? Our students deserve better than this and our community needs to be central to the SRC’s decisions. The community can look back and say they did everything they could to keep the doors open but can the SRC?